Fitness fundamentals

If you are a student at one of Halifax’s larger universities you’re probably paying for athletic facilities. Here’s how to make the best of your school gym membership.

Amongst the many mandatory fees students pay at university, athletic fees are but one. And most students don't even use the facilities. Yet this perk should be a big part of every student's life.

If the idea of improving your self-confidence, getting stronger, increasing endurance, looking more toned or getting ripped sounds appealing, then you should be working out.

"There's no downside to having an active lifestyle," says Rick Horsman, a personal trainer at The Tower at Saint Mary's University. He estimates only 10 to 15 percent of students use the athletic facilities on campus.

Exercise is kind of like a miracle drug. It's been scientifically shown to improve people's moods, reduce depression and anxiety, improve sleep, attentiveness, energy levels and the ability to concentrate. If that isn't enough to get you off the couch, then perhaps knowing exercise will help with your libido is the kicker. Exercise helps produce testosterone which is a very important sexual hormone and it helps increase blood flow to the sexual organs.

Now head to your school's athletic facilities. During the first couple weeks of school, it's packed. A couple weeks later, not so much. With assignments, jobs, relationships, the gym often gets cut out of students' lives.

"I see it all the time," says Anne LeBlanc, a personal trainer at Dalplex at Dalhousie University.

So how does one not become one of the two-week casualties? LeBlanc says it's necessary to make time for exercise---people already make time to do their hair, they get ready when they go out and women do their make-up, so the key is to give exercise top priority in one's schedule.

And it's also crucial to set goals with specific dates and numbers, says Horsman. "A vague goal is very easy to lose sight of," he says.

It's not enough to just say, "I want to lose weight." People need to set specific goals saying they want to lose so many pounds by a certain date or say they want to be able to bench press a certain weight by a particular date. Horsman says you also need to write down these goals so you can hold yourself accountable to them.

The habits and things people do while in university form the structure for what they're going to do down the road. If you make exercise a part of your life now, it's much more likely to be a part of your life when you get older.

Part of being a student is dealing with the various pressures that exist, pressures from within, your parents and your peers. This occurs against the backdrop of trying to balance things such as social lives, schoolwork and relationships.

"Unfortunately, there's quite a bit of temptation when you first head off to university to deal with that kind of stress with increased use of alcohol or by beginning to use alcohol," says LeBlanc. "And some people turn to drugs. It's really good to learn to use exercise to reduce your stress and anxiety."

And if you think walking to and from class will be enough exercise, it probably won't. One of the reasons why students can get lazy in university is because of how campuses are set up. "Everything's right here within a few blocks," says LeBlanc. "And you don't have to walk far to get to where you're going, whereas you may have walked a few miles back and forth to get to high school."

For student Joel Armah, a 27-year-old Masters of Public Administration student at Dalhousie, going to Dalplex is a lifestyle choice.

He's a fixture at the Dalplex weight room. But Armah wasn't always the regular he is now. During his undergrad days at Brock University, he stopped working out.

"During that gap, I found I had a lot of pent-up stress," he says. "I was much more tired, I was really out of shape and I was falling ill quite often." Now that he's been going to the Dalplex for the past year and a half, he says he gets sick less often, sleeps better and feels better overall.

"A healthy body and a healthy mind just make for a healthy person," says Armah.

Second year SMU geography student Chantal Moore started going to the gym after she started working at The Tower and saw the effects exercise had on the patrons.

"I saw how it affected their attitudes," says the 19-year-old. She would notice how people's moods would improve from when they first arrived and left The Tower. She usually works out three to five times a week, doing a mixture of cardio and weight training, sometimes before class, sometimes between them and even after them.

"You're not used to all this stress and trying to balance your time," says Moore of the university life. "I find the gym helps relieve a lot of that stress and helps me focus afterwards a lot better."

The gym is also a great spot to socialize and meet new people. Finding peers with active lifestyles usually has a positive effect and helps inspire you to reach your fitness goals. "If you choose inactive friends, it's easier to watch a movie with them than to overcome that inertia," says LeBlanc.

But for those who equate going to the gym with just lifting weights, there's more to it than that. Cross-training is crucial to getting in peak shape. "There's more to being physically active than being a musclehead," says Horsman. At any of the school facilities, there is a ton of variety to choose from.

"It doesn't have to be the gym," says LeBlanc. "There are all kinds of outside activities---winter, spring, summer and fall in this city." People can play soccer outside, throw a frisbee or go for a jog.

But given you're paying fees for the athletic facilities, why not take advantage of it? What's the worst that can come of it? "You won't have regrets," says LeBlanc.

University athletic facilities

The King’s Gym
6350 Coburg Road, 422-1271

At King’s, students pay $106 each semester in athletic fees. Because of the relationship between King’s and Dal, King’s students also get Dalplex access included in their fees. Dalplex is the better option for what is available, but the facilities on the King’s campus include a gymnasium, a weight room, a cardio room and a dance studio. The membership runs from September 1 to April 30.

6260 South Street, 494-3372

Full-time students pay $87.75 per semester for athletic fees at Dal. At Dalplex, there are restrictions on what students can access, although they can upgrade their memberships if they wish. Students have access to the 50,000 square foot fieldhouse which features two weight rooms, basketball courts, volleyball courts, badminton courts, squash and racquetball courts, a running track, a pool and group fitness classes. For an additional price, students can get access to the Cardio Plus Centre, the rock-climbing wall or get towel service. The membership runs from September 1 to April 30. Also, Dalplex is available to NSCAD students for $105 + HST per semester.

The Mount Fitness Centre
166 Bedford Highway, 457-6420

Full-time students at the Mount pay $5 per unit credit for access to the Mount Fitness Centre. Most full-time students take five classes, so that works out to $25 per year. The membership includes access to the weight conditioning centre, fitness classes, use of the gymnasium during open hours and discounted rates on selected instructional programs such as yoga, karate, dance, tai chi and tae kwon do. The membership runs for a full calendar year, starting September 1.

The Tower
920 Tower Road, 420-5555

At SMU, there aren’t any separate athletic fees to use The Tower. That doesn’t mean the facility is free---the cost is just worked into other fees at the university. The membership includes towel service, access to the co-ed sauna and steam room, all group fitness classes, cardio and weight rooms, squash courts and basketball/volleyball/badminton courts (when available). Basically, there aren’t any restrictions to students, except the membership only runs from September 1 to April 30.

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